Pharmacies evolve

The traditional role of the corner drugstore has evolved beyond simple prescriptions written by doctors and dispensed by a pharmacist. Pharmacists today are health care professionals who can assist you in monitoring your many medications as well as provide preventative care, such as vaccines and cholesterol tests.

Pharmacists now provide essential services as well as save time and money for the average consumer, said Tiffani Washington, spokesperson for Walgreens based at the company’s Chicago offices.

“Pharmacy is much broader than the old perception of someone behind the counter doling out prescriptions,” she said. “That is not at all today what pharmacy is about.”

Walgreen’s Take Care Health Systems subsidiary is the largest and most comprehensive provider of worksite health and wellness centers and convenient care clinics, with more than 700 locations throughout the country, including Las Vegas. Take Care Clinics are staffed by board-certified family nurse practitioners and physician assistants who listen to each patient’s needs, conduct thorough examinations and provide individualized diagnoses and treatment plans. They can even write prescriptions that can be filled a few steps away at the Walgreens pharmacy.

“The role of community pharmacies is certainly changing,” Washington said, “and Walgreens is certainly on the front end of that change.”

More than 58 million households in the United States visited a Walgreens over the past year; that’s about 50 percent of all homes.

Pharmacists in general monitor the health and medical progress of each patient who comes in to fill a prescription, creating a larger net of health professionals looking after the patient. While pharmacists for the main part no longer compound, as in mix the actual ingredients to form the medications because pharmaceutical companies produce the standard dosage already, they do monitor the intake and mix of different drugs to prevent potential problems.

“We have a dominant place in the market, with more than 7,800 stores nationwide,” Washington said. “Las Vegas is one of our strongest markets in the country, and we’ve had a lot of success with many of our programs out there.”

Pharmacists need a Pharm.D. degree, which usually takes four years to complete from an accredited university. Some graduates go on to take one to two more years of fellowship or residency programs to assist in job placement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60 percent of pharmacists worked in a retail store such as Walgreens in 2008, with only 22 percent working in a hospital pharmacy. A small amount worked in mail order divisions of pharmacy.

“Two things we have that people might not know about are the home infusion and the mail order division, and specialty care is one of the most growing sections happening in pharmacy, like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, those types of diseases that require specific medications and sometimes coming from many different doctors,” Washington said.

Specific drug therapy areas have become a specialized practice for pharmacists, such as oncology, chemotherapy, geriatric and psychiatric pharmacy. This narrowing of specialized care can further the patient’s comfort and health while they battle a disease.

“In communities across the countries and in our relationship with health care providers, we are able to play an expanded role in health care resources as well as a role in being a source of information on preventative health care for any of our customers who come into the Walgreens pharmacy,” she said. “Our pharmacists are specially trained in medication therapy management and provide better information to the consumer.”

And in some cases they can provide treatment or tests, from vaccinations to internal medicine to a small degree.

As of August 2010, Walgreens provided 5.4 million flu shots, more than 4 times its previous number.

“We also were able to for the first time be able to provide self-immunization, where the pharmacists are trained to give the immunization in the store,” she said. “Last year, the first year that in all 50 states that we had all pharmacists register to be immunizers, that hasn’t always been the case.”

That has helped make the country safer.

“The government recognized the resource that is there, the convenience and accessibility that has become the corner drugstore,” she said. “It’s been a good thing for us and for the typical consumer who can get so much more from us than having to find a doctor, make an appointment and possibly take time from their work day to keep up on their vaccinations or general health.”

Aside from the much talked about flu shots, Walgreens offers chickenpox, shingles, polio, hepatitis A and B, Tdap (or whooping cough), measles, mumps and rubella, rabies and pneumonia vaccinations and many more.

“The role of the pharmacist is evolving and the role of the corner drugstore is evolving into a role of being an accessible destination for health information and preventative services,” she said.

Also, health tests are coming to a few hundred stores.

“We plan to offer tests such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, body mass index, many more things that will help people know their numbers,” Washington said. “That’s another example of preventative care and how the role is changing from administering prescription to a larger sweep of providing other health care.”

Walgreens continues to roll out new programs to stay ahead of the curve as pharmacies become more significant to the average consumer. The company has 250 Centers of Excellence for Immunizations with plans for more of these specialized programs.

“We have a number of ways that we have enhanced the core of what pharmacy is all about,” she said. “In a number of our stores we have Centers of Excellence. These are locations that specialize in care for an at-need state.”

Preventative care is vital to the future of affordable health care, and the pharmacist plays a key role in that, one which has been overlooked in the past.

“We are really helping the patient one on one with how to get the best possible outcome from their medications, making sure the pharmacists help them in complying with taking their medications correctly and continually,” Washington said. “The big part of preventative care is to make sure people maintain their prescription therapies in complying with their medication.”

If medications are not taken correctly, it can make it for a much more expensive and serious problem down the road.

“That is a clear example of how pharmacists are playing a huge role in filling a gap in health care,” she said.

Their mobile application assists with knowing when to get your flu shot, what medications are needed to refill as well as other time-saving and cost-saving features.

“Our mobile app makes it really simple for anyone to monitor their medications and therefore their general health,” she said. “We help people to take a more active role in their health. We make it easier.”

Both the big box stores such as Walgreens and CVS and the small, independent pharmacies have a common thread: customer service and personal attention.

But, the recent debates on the government’s attempts at health care reform have some pharmacists wondering about the future of the independent shops.

A local pharmacist is hoping for the best as insurance companies make it harder for single pharmacy shops to make their bottom line. Ali Raza, owner of Family Pharmacy, a family-owned business in Pahrump, said the government needs to step in if brick-and-mortar stores are to compete against Internet shops, which don’t supply the human touch that could possibly save someone’s life.

“Government has to play a major role to help salvage the pharmacy industry as big mergers, low reimbursements for the little pop and mom pharmacies as opposed to the big giant are drying the enthusiasm for the entrepreneurship,” he said “Nothing is being done to help revive the culture of smaller community pharmacies where customers are not just numbers but are actual members of the community who need help.”

For instance, many insurance carriers offer better co-pays with larger pharmacies a difference of $2 for a retail giant and $4 for an independent pharmacy, such as Raza’s Family Pharmacy.

“Myself and my wife, Nureen Raza, both work as pharmacists and my younger brother, Ghulam Mustafa, runs the operational and executive side of the business,” Raza said.

Mustafa has an MBA and operational business experience including professional service in the Middle East.

“We have six other employees that make a total of nine people working in the pharmacy,” he said.

Family Pharmacy also is looking to open another branch in Las Vegas. 

My wife and I both graduated from Pakistan,” Raza said. “We went through FPGEC (Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee), NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy), MPJE (Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams to earn the pharmacy license in the USA. Pharmacy schooling was a challenge and fun.”

Being a pharmacist and assisting his customers with their medication therapies, working with physicians and monitoring the health of his regular clients has been rewarding.

“I always believed that the pharmacist plays a liaison role between patient and a doctor,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with people and love explaining about their medicine and disease state and help them understand about their drug regimen, and how, the way they take their medicine along with the other drugs or OTC (over the counter) meds would have a huge impact on the outcome of the treatment, possible interactions and side effects.”

Family Pharmacy is continuing to grow based on word of mouth.

“We are currently seeking for intern/part time pharmacist help,” he said. “(Anyone) applying for the position should have some pharmacy training.”

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